If you suffer from social anxiety disorder, it’s possible that someone in your family does too.

Researchers at the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Bonn in Germany recently discovered that a specific serotonin transporter gene called “SLC6A4” is strongly correlated with your odds of suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).

woman standing alone in a bustling crowd
Image by Mike Wilson

The team leading the study estimated that about 30%-40% of SAD’s causes are hereditary. The environment, your personality type, or your brain chemistry are other relevant factors. Therefore, if a close relative has SAD, you’re several times more likely to develop it yourself.

What is Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)?

SAD is characterized by a major fear of being judged in social situations and a fear of being embarrassing in public. You may experience extreme stress or fear in all or any of the following situations: 

  • Being introduced to new people
  • Finding yourself in the center of attention
  • Facing new social situations
  • Receiving criticism in public

This can interfere with friendships and romantic relationships and can make it tough to build the social support system you deserve. It can also lead to feelings of loneliness and frustration. 

If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone: nearly 15 million adults in the U.S. live with SAD. It’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. However, 36% of people with SAD suffer in silence for ten years or more before getting help. You are entitled to get help as soon as you feel ready—but the sooner you get it, the better. 

What can I do about it? 

While you can’t make specific genetics disappear, you can manage the effects with positive solutions, like engaging in healthy forms of self-care such as journaling or exercise. It’s important to remember that no two people suffering from SAD will experience it in the exact same way. This means that you may not get it as bad as a fellow family member or even have the same symptoms. 

From the medication standpoint, there are selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which are pills often prescribed to treat depression and anxiety disorders. SSRIs target the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 – the main culprit of SAD. You can ask your health service provider about a medical diagnosis of SAD. Once you have this, you can request a prescription for the SSRI which better suits you.

If medication isn’t your cup of tea, you can always opt for natural treatments for social anxiety disorder. One such treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which focuses on your most damaging thoughts and works to reframe your mindset. It’s particularly effective for many types of mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Furthermore, since it focuses on the here and now, CBT shows progress in the short-term.